Books I’ve Read This Week: The Tudors

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 10: The Tudors This week, (or should I say 10 days as I am a few books behind schedule in efforts to read a book a day in 2018) there was a clear theme to my reading: England’s Tudor Dynasty. I read short biographies of King Henry VIII and two of his children, King Edward VI and Queen Mary I as well as a scholarly study of early Tudor queenship, historical novels about Henry VIII’s first two wives, and a book about how Tudor England established diplomatic and trade relations with the court of Czar Ivan the Terrible in Russia.  Here are this week’s reviews:

#64 of 365 Henry VIII: The Quest for Fame by John Guy

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 160 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: March 6, 2018

Review: A balanced introduction to King Henry VIII’s reign that includes both Henry’s strengths and his “deadly impatience.” Guy incorporates the latest research concerning Henry and his reign including medical analysis of his ulcerated leg and difficulty fathering surviving children. The book provides an especially detailed discussion of Henry’s public image and the contrast between Henry’s “delusions of grandeur” and his comparatively marginal significance in continental European politics. I disagree, however, with Guy’s conclusion that Henry was “the most remarkable ruler ever to sit on the English throne.” I would give that distinction to his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.

 #65 of 365 Elizabeth of York and Her Six Daughters-in-Law: Fashioning Tudor Queenship (1485-1547) by Retha Warnicke

Genre: Royal History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: Hardcover, 291 pages

Date Read: March 7, 2018

Review: An excellent study of change and continuity in Tudor queenship during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Renowned Tudor scholar Retha Warnicke emphasizes the importance of Elizabeth of York’s role as queen during the reign of Henry VII, challenging the idea that the queen was completely overshadowed by her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort. Since Elizabeth of York died before her son Henry VIII became King and married six successive wives, she is rarely compared to her daughters-in-law even though her experiences as queen set precedents for subsequent Tudor queens. The book is arranged thematically, examining coronations, incomes, households, family life, religious activities, patronage, court entertainments and burials.

There are a few points where I disagree with Warnicke’s interpretations of source material. For example, she describes Mary Boleyn as Anne Boleyn’s younger sister while I agree with evidence cited by other historians indicating that Mary was the elder of the two Boleyn sisters. Overall, I found the book extremely informative and fascinating to read, combining the experiences of Tudor queens consort with the life cycle of elite women of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

#66 of 365 Edward VI: The Last Boy King by Stephen Alford

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 90 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: March 7, 2018

Review: This short biography of King Edward VI provides a good overview of the child king’s portraits, writings, interests, social circle and education but there are key themes from his reign that receive comparatively little attention. Aside from a final chapter about Edward VI’s changes to the line of succession to favour his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, there is little analysis of the lasting impact of Edward’s strong Protestant beliefs and policies. His interactions with his sisters, the future Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I, also received comparatively little attention. The Further Reading sections provides some useful suggestions that address these themes in the King’s reign.

#67 of 365 Mary I: The Daughter of Time by John Edwards

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 112 pages

Acquired: Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Dates Read: March 8-9, 2018

Review: An excellent introduction to the reign of Queen Mary I. For centuries, Mary has been dismissed as a “Bloody Mary” and compared unfavourably to her half sister and successor Elizabeth I. Recent scholarship has emphasized her achievement as England’s first uncontested female ruler. In common with his longer biography of Mary “England’s Catholic Queen” for Yale University Press, Edwards, an expert in Spanish history, carefully analyzes Mary’s Catholicism, Spanish influences (including her mother Catherine of Aragon and husband Philip II) and her place in continental European politics. The focus of this short biography is Mary’s education and reign and there is little attention paid to her personality beyond the traumatic impact of the breakdown of the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. 

#68 of 365 Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 22 hours and 32 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from

Dates Listened: March 6-March 10, 2018

Review: A richly detailed historical novel about King Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, filled with sumptuous gowns, banquets and jewels. The novel begins with Katherine’s arrival in England to marry Henry’s elder brother Arthur and Weir shows the cultural differences between the English and Spanish royal courts. Weir also captures the atmosphere of Tudor England, especially the court entertainments and tournaments presided over by Henry VIII. While most novels about Katherine of Aragon focus almost exclusively on the breakdown of her marriage, Weir shows Catherine’s full range of interests such as her patronage of scholars and her wide social circle including Maud Parr (mother of Catherine’s goddaughter and Henry VIII’s future 6th wife, Catherine Parr), Margaret, Countess of Salisbury and Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby. The prose is sometimes repetitive as the reader learns again and again that Catherine dislikes Cardinal Wolsey and favours an alliance with her nephew, Emperor Charles V, and key characters sometimes come and go with little explanation but overall, the novel is engaging. The audiobook is well read by Rosalyn Landor although the narrator sometimes overemphasizes the Spanish accents of Catherine and her ladies.

#69 of 365 Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 19 hours and 45 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from

Dates Listened: March 10-12, 2018

Review: A detailed historical novel about the life of Anne Boleyn from childhood to execution. I especially enjoyed the early chapters where Anne serves a series of European royal women and is mentored by these powerful figures including Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands and Marguerite of Navarre. Henry VIII does not begin to pursue Anne until around a quarter of the way through the novel, allowing Anne’s personality as an independent, educated, confident and stylish young woman to be established before she becomes the central figure in “The King’s Great Matter.” The novel also shows the power imbalances between European monarchs such as Henry VIII or Francois I and the young maids-of-honour whom they pursued at their courts.

Once Henry begins to seek a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, however, the narrative slows down and the courtship and quarrels between Henry and Anne become repetitive. First, they argue numerous times about Cardinal Wolsey, then they argue about Catherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary. In Weir’s previous novel about Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII has a variety of interests and political objectives but the king is almost entirely focused on Anne in this novel and therefore seems more one dimensional. The wit, charm and personal magnetism that Anne must have possessed to receive a promise of marriage from the King is also curiously absent from much of the novel. Once Henry and Anne’s marriage begins to break down, the narrative becomes more dramatic and builds to a tragic conclusion.

#70 of 365 Tudor Adventurers by James Evans

Genre: History

Date Read: March 14, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 383 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Indigo Books

Review:  An interesting account of how Tudor England established diplomatic and trade relations with Ivan the Terrible’s Russia. The impressions of the English explorers, traveling by sledge to Moscow and being invited to lavish banquets at the Kremlin were fascinating. I was also interested to read about the founding of the Muscovy Company under the reign of Queen Mary I. I would have preferred that the book follow these developments more closely as there are often digressions about English politics during the expedition to Russia and the history of navigation and seafaring that could be streamlined to focus more closely on the voyage itself. I agree with the author that the search for the northeast passage should be better known as it had a lasting impact on England’s economy.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

My January-February 2018 course at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies: Family Life from Medieval to Modern Times

On Wednesday afternoons in January and February 2018, I will be teaching an eight week history course about Family Life from Medieval to Modern Times.

Click here for more information and to register.

Course Description:

Our views on marriage and childrearing would seem very strange to families of past centuries. We’ll see the influence of romanticism on the current understanding of family life, the changing role of grandparents in relation to family traditions, and the emergence of a distinct children’s culture including the birth of children’s literature, due in part to the expansion of formal education. Join us for a look at marriage and parenting customs and advice through the centuries, and the surprising influence of history on family life today.
Learning Outcomes:
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Tudor Book Reviews: The King’s Pearl by Melita Thomas and So High a Blood by Morgan Ring

The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas

The childhood of Queen Mary I has long been viewed through the perspective of her adolescence and adulthood. As Melita Thomas, observes, Mary was known for centuries as “Bloody Mary” because of the executions of Protestants during her short reign and has recently been rediscovered as “Tragic Mary” because of the devastating impact of the divorce of her parents, King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on her life. As a result, Mary is viewed as her mother’s daughter and the dynastic marriage negotiations of her childhood are often treated as doomed to failure from the beginning.

In The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary, Thomas re-evaluates the relationship between Henry VIII and Mary I, emphasizing Mary’s political and personal significance to her father. The dynastic marriage negotiations of Mary’s childhood are taken seriously as Henry attempted to increase his prominence in European politics by securing prestigious marriage for Mary. Henry’s relations with Catherine’s nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, are particularly well analyzed by Thomas as the prospect of having a grandson who would rule most of Europe seemed to reconcile Henry to the prospect of a female heir.

Thomas makes clear that popular opinion within England and the rest of Europe deemed Mary to be Henry’s heir until the birth of a younger brother, despite the efforts of Henry and Anne Boleyn to assert their daughter’s Elizabeth’s seniority in the succession through the Act of Supremacy. After Anne’s execution, there were doubts concerning whether Henry would have subsequent children with his third wife, Jane Seymour. Mary therefore remained politically significant event after she had been declared illegitimate.

Thomas devotes less attention to the personal bond between Henry and Mary beyond their shared love of music, gardens and courtly display as well as willingness to take risks to achieve their political ambitions but this imbalance reflects the available source material. There is more evidence of Mary’s personal relations with her successive stepmothers from her antipathy toward Anne Boleyn to her warm friendship with Katherine Parr. Mary’s determination to be an active rather than passive participant in Tudor politics is evident throughout the book. The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary is an interesting and well researched counterpoint to prevailing image of Mary I as a “Bloody” or “Tragic” figure. Like her half-siblings, Elizabeth I and Edward VI, she was a child of Henry VIII and his influence had a lifelong impact on her politics and personality.

So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot by Morgan Ring

One of Queen Mary I’s closest friends was her Scottish cousin Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of King Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor and her second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret Douglas was a prominent figure at the Tudor court during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Through her grandson, King James VI of Scotland/James I of England, she is an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II. Despite her importance during the sixteenth century and the dramatic circumstances of her life – she was imprisoned in the Tower of London on more than one occasion – Margaret Douglas is little known today. Her long residence at the Tudor court resulted in her being marginalized in histories of sixteenth century Scotland while her Scottish ancestry meant that she received little attention in histories of England during the same period.

In So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot, Morgan Ring presents Margaret Douglas a strong and adaptable personality, a key figure in the religious and political upheaval of Elizabeth I’s reign and a consummate survivor. Margaret enjoyed the rare ability of reconciling with Henry VIII after incurring his displeasure on more than one occasion because of her romances with members of the Howard family. The exclusion of the Scottish line from Henry VIII’s will, however, suggests that they were in conflict at the time of his death and Ring provides a convincing analysis of these circumstances in her book.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Margaret, a devout Roman Catholic who had enjoyed a close friendship with Mary I, opposed the Queen’s Protestant religious settlement. Margaret also favoured the marriage of her elder son, Lord Darnley, to Mary, Queen of Scots in opposition to Queen Elizabeth I’s wishes. After Darnley’s death, Margaret blamed Mary, Queen of Scots and enjoyed an improved relationship with Elizabeth that lasted until Margaret’s younger son married without the Queen’s permission. As the mother of two sons who survived to adulthood (a circumstance that was rare among the Tudors) and then as the grandmother of the King of Scotland, Margaret was an important political figure throughout Elizabeth I’s reign. Ring restores a little known member of the Tudor dynasty to her rightful place in sixteenth century history.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

My October-November 2017 course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies: Women In Power

“Boadicea Haranguing the Britons” by John Opie

In the Fall of 2017, I will be teaching an eight week course about the history of Women in Power at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. Click here for more information and to register:

Time and Date:

03 Oct 2017 – 21 Nov 2017 
7:00PM – 9:00PM

Course Description:

Powerful women have presented themselves as warrior queens, rulers by divine right, wives and mothers and, most recently, as elected officials. We’ll examine the most significant female political figures in history, including Boadicea, Queen Isabella, Queen Elizabeth I, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton. Through lively lectures and discussions, you’ll learn the story of women in political life. Why are women still underrepresented in political life? Join Carolyn Harris for a fascinating look at the often-neglected place of women in power from Cleopatra to Angela Merkel.

Learning Outcomes:


Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

National Post review of Raising Royalty: “Murder your children’s rivals, and other parenting tips from royals”

19th century portrait of Peter the Great interrogating his son, Alexei

My new book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, is featured in the weekend National Post including quotes from the chapters about Peter the Great, Queen Victoria and Henry VIII.

“[The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge] want Princess Charlotte and Prince George to go to the local school. They want to be hands-on parents. On the day George left the hospital, William wrestled with the lad’s car seat, a performance reenacted daily by new dads the world over. The message they hoped you’d glean from it? Will and Kate are just like you and me.

In her new book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, Canadian historian Carolyn Harris reveals there may be other parenting tips to be gleaned from royal watching. With Harris as inspiration, we offer six tips from moms and dads who also happened to be monarchs.”

Click here to read “Murder your children’s rivals, and other parenting tips from royals” in the National Post

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting now available for purchase

My 3rd book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, has been published by Dundurn Press in Canada. (The USA and UK release date is May 2).

Click here to purchase your copy of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

How royal parents dealt with raising their children over the past thousand years, from keeping Vikings at bay to fending off paparazzi.

William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are setting trends for millions of parents around the world. The upbringing of their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, is the focus of intense popular scrutiny. Royalty have always raised their children in the public eye and attracted praise or criticism according to parenting standards of their day.

Royal parents have faced unique challenges and held unique privileges. In medieval times, raising an heir often meant raising a rival, and monarchs sometimes faced their grown children on the battlefield. Conversely, kings and queens who lost their thrones in wars or popular revolutions often found solace in time spent with their children. In modern times, royal duties and overseas tours have often separated young princes and princesses from their parents, a circumstance that is slowly changing with the current generation of royalty.

Click here to purchase your copy of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Table of Contents for Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

The Table of Contents of my forthcoming book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting is now available online:

Table of Contents

Introduction  Raising a Royal Child

1     Edgar “the Peaceable” (c. 943-75) and Elfrida of Northampton (c. 945-1001)
2     William “the Conqueror” (c. 1028-87) and Matilda of Flanders (c. 1031-83)

Genealogical chart depicting King Henry II of England and his children

3     Henry II (1133-89) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1124-1204)
4     Henry III (1207-72) and Eleanor of Provence (c. 1223-91)
5     Edward III (1312-77) and Philippa of Hainault (1314-69)
6     Richard III (1452-85) and Anne Neville (1456-85)

Charles I, Henrietta Maria and their two eldest children

7     Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516) and Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504)
8     Henry VIII (1491-1547) and Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536)
9     Frederick V, Elector Palatine (1596-1632) and Elizabeth of England and Scotland (1596-1662)
10    Charles I (1600-49) and Henrietta Maria of France (1609-69)
11    Peter I “the Great” of Russia (1672-1725) and Catherine I (1684-1727)
12    Anne (1665-1714) and George of Denmark (1653-1708)
13    George II (1683-1760) and Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737)

Nicholas and Alexandra present their daughter, Olga to Queen Victoria

14    Louis XVI of France (1754-93) and Marie Antoinette of Austria (1755-93)
15    Victoria (1819-1901) and Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1819-61)
16    Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918) and Alexandra of Hesse-Darmstadt (1872-1918)
17    Juliana of the Netherlands (1909-2004) and Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld (1911-2004)
18    Elizabeth II (1926-) and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark (1921-)
19    Prince Charles (1948-) and Lady Diana Spencer (1961-97)  20    Prince William (1982-) and Catherine Middleton (1982-)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte arrive in Canada

Epilogue    The Future of the Royal Nursery

Further Reading

Click here to pre-order your copy of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Advance Reader Reviews of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

Readers who received advance review copies of my forthcoming book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting are sharing their reviews on goodreads. Raising Royalty will be published by Dundurn Press in Canada in April 2017 and in the USA and UK in May 2017.

Here are excerpts from some of the reader reviews:

“Raising Royalty is a comprehensive study of how…Kings and Queens have raised their children. Twenty families with their widely varying parenting approaches from Anglo-Saxon times to the present are studied.
While the book is a thoroughly researched subject by a scholar, it is a joy to read. It provides a clear picture of how parenting in the rarefied atmosphere of castles and palaces has evolved and, perhaps more importantly, why. Boys were brought up to fight and rule, and girls for dynastic/political marriages. Princes and princesses had no choice one thousand years ago and, one also sympathizes, today their futures are still fixed in stone but with a little more leeway.
Carolyn Harris, the author, has done an excellent job of writing this book for general readership and it will open eyes with the detail and surprises. Recommended for history buffs and royal watchers.” — Julie Ferguson

“I was expecting the book to be entirely be about English royalty, but was pleased to find that it covered enough of Europe to give it some diversity.
Filled with a lot of interesting facts and written in a way that held my attention.
Both well researched and written.” — MissyLynne

“I was expecting a list of “advice” and “lessons” and was pleasantly surprised.
Ms. Harris presents a HUGE amount of history in this book and her skill at writing in a way that keeps the reader engaged and interested is refreshing.
Anyone with any interest in royal families will love this book. It’s a great read. ” — Michelle Griswold

Click here to view all reader reviews for Raising Royalty on goodreads

Click here to pre-order your copy of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Advance Praise for Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

Advance Praise for my 3rd book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, which will be published by Dundurn Press in April 2017:

“Today‘s parents think they have it tough, monitoring screen time and shuttling kids to soccer matches. Imagine being King William I, the Conqueror, who in 1079 had to fight his firstborn son on the battlefield; or Henry II, whose villainous son, John, is today best known as Robin Hood‘s arch enemy. Carolyn Harris‘s history of royal child rearing is a must read for anyone interested in the never-ending saga of royal families and a fascinating read.” (Mark Reid, Editor-in-Chief, Canada’s History Magazine)

“Carolyn Harris has taken an innovative approach with this engaging new work, bringing together a millennia of royal parenting from Edgar “the Peaceable” and Elfrida of Northampton right up to the present day with the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Harris has deftly woven together the history of various rulers, evaluating their relationships with their children and bringing in wider trends in parenting in different eras. She notes both rivalry and tension between parents and children, as aptly illustrated by the Hanoverian monarchs of England, as well as evidence of affection and strong bonds between rulers and their offspring. Any reader with an interest in the history of monarchy or parenting itself will find this an absorbing read, both accessible and replete with interesting information. A real strength of this book is that it puts our present-day fascination with current and recent monarchs and their children in a long-term historical context.” (Dr. Elena (Ellie) Woodacre, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern European History Postgraduate Student Coordinator-Faculty of HSS University of Winchester, editor of The Royal Studies Journal)

“How to raise the kids? It is a question that has confounded parents for centuries. Imagine how parenting has been for royalty throughout the ages? Royal historian Carolyn Harris’s newest book focuses on this very topic. In Raising Royalty, Harris’s detailed research [explores] how royal parenting has evolved throughout the last thousand years. Harris focuses on twenty royal parents – from Edgar the Peaceable and Elfrieda of Northampton to Prince William and Catherine Middleton. This book is delightfully readable, infused with the brilliance of pure scholarship.” (Marlene A. Eilers Koenig, author of Queen Victoria’s Descendants)

“Carolyn Harris’s encyclopedic knowledge infuses Raising Royalty with fascinating insights into the lives of Europe’s Royal Families. Moving through the centuries, Harris highlights unique and evolving family dynamics and traditions right up to our present day. An essential addition to any royal enthusiast’s collection, Raising Royalty provides a captivating look at the families occupying the centre of some of the world’s greatest monarchies.” (Nathan Tidridge, author of Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy)

Click here to pre-order your copy of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Weekend Bookshelf: The Tudor Brandons, Ivan’s War and Water for Elephants

 Royal History: The Tudor Brandons: Mary And Charles – Henry VIII’s Nearest & Dearest by Sarah-Beth Watkins by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

When Michael Hirst wrote the screenplay for the Showtimes series, The Tudors, he was fascinated by King Henry VIII’s lifelong friend and brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Hirst wrote in The Tudors: Its’ Good to Be King, “Charles Brandon, was, perhaps, the only man in all of England to successfully retain Henry’s affection over a span of forty years.” Over the course of his reign, Henry remained close to Charles even though his friend committed the transgression of marrying the King’s widowed sister Mary without permission. Charles remained in favour even as Henry ordered the executions of formerly trusted advisers, Thomas More then Thomas Cromwell and queens, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Hirst made Charles a prominent character in The Tudors, giving the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk their most notable appearance in popular culture since the 1950s Walt Disney film, The Sword and the Rose.

Watkins, author of Lady Katherine Knollys, The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII, provides a short, readable biography of Charles and Mary in The Tudor Brandons. At the centre of the couple’s story is their elopement in 1515. Mary was the widow of King Louis XII of France and she married Charles Brandon to avoid being compelled to make another dynastic marriage. There would not be another instance of an English princess marrying a subject until Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise married John Campbell, Lord Lorne in 1871. Watkins provides a thoughtful analysis of the circumstances surrounding the controversial royal wedding including reasons why Henry VIII was inclined to forgive the match and the implicit challenge to his authority.

The Tudor Brandons also includes Brandon’s family history (he descended from a long line of opportunists who were often on the wrong side of the law) and Mary’s continued role in Anglo-French relations including her presence at the Field of the Cloth of Gold summit between Henry VIII and Francis I. Mary also exerted a cultural influence at court, shaping trends in fashion and country house gardens in addition to popularizing picnic suppers for the elite. Charles and Mary’s granddaughter Lady Jane Grey, the nine days queen, became a significant figure in later Tudor history and the family remains a part of popular culture today (For another biography of Henry VIII’s younger sister, see Mary Rose by David Loades). ***

History: Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945

There have been numerous books written about the experiences of the British “Tommy” or German “Fritz” fighting on the front lines of the Second World War. In Ivan’s War, Catherine Merridale, author of Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin, examines the daily life of “Ivan,” the Soviet soldier in what became known in Russia as The Great Patriotic War. Merridale provides the details of daily life at the front. In the early days of the war, adequate training (not to mention regular rations) were in short supply. Unless soldiers brought their own socks, they spent the war marching in one size fits all foot wrappers. There was no standardized system of leave and military service therefore meant long separations from families who also suffered hardships during the war.

In addition to reconstructing the daily lives of soviet soldiers during the Second World War, Merridale examines broader questions about the motives and worldviews prevalent within the Red Army. What motivated individual soldiers to keep fighting under such harsh conditions? What were the differences in perspective between older people, who might have had military experience from the First World War and the reign of Nicholas II and younger people, who had never known any other political system than the Soviet regime? How were women and religious majorities perceived? What were the factors that contributed to the atrocities committed by the Red Army in Romania, Hungary and East Prussia? Merridale concludes with a thoughtful analysis of the lasting impact of the wartime experience and includes the perceptions of the surviving veterans. ****

 Historical Fiction: Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen.

When veterinary student Jacob Jankowski loses his parents in a car accident, he leaves Cornell university and runs away with a 2nd tier traveling circus during the depression. The book was adapted into an Academy Award Winning film, Water for Elephants, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.  In the novel, Jacob is ninety – or perhaps ninety-three, he can’t quite remember – looking back on his youth at the circus from his retirement residence. There’s a realism to his old age but his past unfolds like a fairy tale where the heroine is a elephant named Rosie.

Gruen based the novel on a series of true events that took place in Depression era American circuses and the setting is compelling, filled with intrigues on trains between small towns and tensions between performers and roustabouts. The characters have rather one dimensional personalities, however, and the ending is unconvincing. For circus themed historical fiction with more compelling characters, I recommend The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin or Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss. ***

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather